An inevitable consequence of aging is the death of brain cells that aren’t replaced. As we get older, this loss of brain cells becomes significant enough to actually shrink the size of our brains. As a result, the strength of our memory and ability to learn decline. However, a new study suggests that adopting a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables can slow or delay the steady erosion of our cognitive function.
Aging and brain volume
The Mediterranean diet is famous for being heart healthy and reducing the risk of diabetes. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have found that older people who practiced that Mediterranean-style eating habits showed less loss of brain volume over time than peers with diets emphasizing meat and dairy products.
The findings come from a long-term study called the Lothian Birth Cohort, which began in 1936 with 967 infants. Participants had their first cognitive ability test at age 11 and have been evaluated throughout their lives. At age 73, 401 of them had an MRI brain scan and completed food intake questionnaires. The MRI and questionnaire was repeated at age 73 and again at age 76.
The data showed less brain shrinkage for members of the cohort who practiced diets more like the Mediterranean style, compared to those who didn’t. The correlation between Mediterranean diet and more brain volume persisted, even if a person happened to have diabetes or high blood pressure.
It’s important to note that the study only measured brain volume in terms of the natural loss of brain cells, a process distinct from Alzheimers disease. Alzheimer’s is the result of a shrinking of the brain much more severe and accelerated than the normal aging process.
More than fish
Another surprising aspect of the findings is that the researchers found no correlation between brain volume and whether a person at either more fish, or more meat. The researchers suggested that in order to preserve your brain volume, instead of simply eating more fish, the entire Mediterranean-style eating plan must be taken into account to explain their results.
Olives and olive oil appear to be the foundation upon which the Mediterranean diet is built. Other heart healthy, plant based fats include those found in seeds and nuts. Add plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and red wine in moderation to round out a Mediterranean-style eating plan.
Remember that simply eating this way may not produce the healthy aging results you expect, unless you adopt an overall healthy lifestyle. Staying mentally active by staying engaged socially and learning new skills are other behaviors common among those who remain sharper as they get older. Staying physically active is another common trait for healthy aging, as well as not smoking, and drinking in moderation.